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Turnovers hurt North in loss to GP

If North Medford could skip past the first quarter, the 2017 season might be a different story.

But it doesn’t work like that in high school football, and the Black Tornado’s early struggles proved costly yet again Friday in a 34-14 loss to visiting Grants Pass at Spiegelberg Stadium.

The Cavemen built a 10-0 lead without gaining a first down on offense and steadily kept North Medford at bay throughout the Southwest Conference clash in a game that saw GP senior Tayler Phillips post three interceptions and three touchdowns.

Grants Pass (5-2, 3-1 SWC) has now won four straight over the Black Tornado (2-5, 2-3), and six of the last seven in the series.

“I knew it would take a good effort to beat them and that was not a good effort by us tonight,” said North Medford head coach Mike MItchell. “It was a spotty effort with some great little spots in it, but some downers, too. Until we get rid of that we aren’t going to win those kinds of games.”

On the first series of the game, a backwards pass by North quarterback Josh Robbins skipped at the feet of fellow senior Tyler Evans. GP’s Niko Phillips grabbed the loose ball to set the stage for a 40-yard field goal by Daniel Cronin.

Three plays later, Tayler Phillips pulled in a tipped pass meant for Evans and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown to make it 10-0 about three minutes into the contest.

“It’s been like that all year, I don’t know what it is,” said Robbins of turnover-prone starts that lead to uphill battles for the Black Tornado. “We thought this time it was going to be different, but we were put in the same situation that we were in last week (at Roseburg). But this time we didn’t come back in the second half like we wanted to.”

“We definitely don’t want to be in that spot,” he added, “but once we’re put in that spot we have to do the best that we can to get out of it and tonight we just couldn’t, that’s a really good team.”

Grants Pass used TD passes of 8 and 3 yards from Blain Hobbs to Tayler Phillips to build a 24-0 advantage before Robbins used a 50-yard completion to Eli Spence and 28-yard hookup with Isaac Manuel to set up a 3-yard TD run by the QB with 1:44 left in the first half.

Robbins’ two-point conversion pass to Thomas Bates trimmed the deficit to 24-8 for North Medford, but the Cavemen tallied a 37-yard field goal by Cronin on the final play of the half to regain momentum.

Tayler Phillips’ second interception halted the Tornado’s first drive of the second half, and GP later capitalized with an 11-yard TD pass from Hobbs to Korbin Lopez.

North senior Vicente Borja returned the favor by intercepting a pass by Phillips in the red zone after the Cavemen tried to catch the defense by surprise. Spence later supplied another long reception by leaping above his defender on a pass by Robbins, who capped his team’s final scoring drive with an 18-yard connection to Evans with 11:16 to go in the game.

Overall, the numbers favored North Medford in most categories but the ones that truly mattered: turnovers (minus-3), penalties (eight for 81 yards) and final score.

The Black Tornado defense, sparked by good play at the line of scrimmage by Jonathinn Casaday, Spence and Tony Bench, fared well to slow a potent GP attack. Linebackers Owen Grafton and Bates also had good moments, and Josh Baptiste had an interception negated by penalty.

“We got in some rhythms in and out of the game,” said GP head coach John Musser, “but we still didn’t put up a full four quarters. Defensively we gave up some big plays to Spence, he’s a very good receiver and tough to cover.”

North Medford outgained the Cavemen in total offense, 359-243.

“I think our defense played amazing tonight, they played really well,” said Robbins. “I feel like this was their breakout game on defense. If they’re playing good, we have to play good (on offense), and we didn’t and that was the difference.”

Victor Ruiz rushed 17 times for 70 yards for GP, while Hobbs completed 18 of 27 passes for 163 yards and three TDs and Tayler Phillips had eight catches for 69 yards.

For North Medford, Manuel carried 18 times for 81 yards before exiting with an ankle injury, Spence caught six passes for 148 yards and Evans had four catches for 57 yards. Robbins was 16-for-33 passing for 265 yards with three interceptions and one TD.

“We definitely didn’t get any breaks offensively tonight,” said Robbins, who also has suffered first-series interceptions against Sheldon and South Medford. “That very first series when we got that fumble, that kind of set a bad tone. I think if we do better on that drive and drive down the field and maybe score it might be different, but that’s not what happened. We’ve just got to build on it because we have a good McNary team coming in next Friday.”

For the senior starter, who now has 15 TD passes against 14 interceptions, much of that turnaround will fall on his shoulders.

“I need to be a better leader and I need to be more accurate,” said Robbins. “Those guys look up to me and when I’m not producing, it’s a direct reflection on the rest of the team. I definitely need to step it up.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

North Medford senior Joshua Robbins throws for a first down against Grants Pass during the Southwest Conference game at Spiegelberg Stadium on Friday night. [ANDY ATKINSON/MAIL TRIBUNE]
North Medford junior Elias Spence makes a catch for a first down against Grants Pass' Joel Valadez during the second half. [ANDY ATKINSON/MAIL TRIBUNE]